Written by Rachel Touchette
This fall, the Power to Change-Students Québec City staff team partnered with the student ministry from the Canadian National Baptist Convention (CNBC) to launch a community project called Le Voisinage (The Neighbourhood). Brad Stewart, the Québec City team leader, explains that this new approach to the student ministry has three underlying principles:
First principle: They want to reach three types of people at once.
- The committed Christian, who wants to grow in his or her faith and maybe even help others to know Jesus.
- The young adult who grew up in the church, but is asking himself or herself whether this faith is really for him or her.
- The young adult who has never known faith.
Second principle: Jesus promises that the supernatural love between Christians will make the world see that God sent him, that God has loved us, and that we are his disciples.
Third principle: The society in Québec is experiencing a crisis of community.
It is on the foundation of these three principles that the student ministry in Québec City is building its plan for the coming years. They want to build a community based on this supernatural love, which will show convinced Christians, questioning Christians, and people who have no experience of faith, that Jesus changes everything.
They are inspired by John 1:14 from The Message:“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.”
Jesus came to live among us. He spent time with his disciples, and interacted with the world, in the context of daily life. The primitive church answered his call to love each other by spending their lives together, by eating together, by sharing together, and by praying together.
The Québec City student ministry is taking up this simple idea: they have moved into a student neighbourhood to pray and visibly live out Jesus’ radical love for one another, and for their neighbours. The neighbourhood they are targeting is beside Université Laval, and close to the cégeps they have been reaching out to for many years.
Le Voisinage is made up of two Impact Houses, one for men and the other for women. The residents of these houses are Christian young adults, both current students and alumni. The Impact Houses host free weekly meals for their neighbours that create much of the community context for Le Voisinage. The student ministry activities that formerly took place on campus now happen mostly in Le Voisinage. For example, discipleship groups and prayer meetings focused on praying for neighbours and friends are held in the Impact Houses. Le Voisinage also includes Christian students living in the area who want to participate in the ministry activities without necessarily residing in one of the Impact Houses.
We chatted with some members of Le Voisinage during their launch retreat at the beginning of the school year. They shared with us what motivated them to take part in the project and what they hope to see as a result:
Alice, language sciences student at Université Laval
“When I heard about the project, I thought it was a great initiative and a wonderful way to reach people around you and a very concrete way to talk about God right where you are. I wonder if studying is worth it, I would like to go on mission. In a way, the Impact House allows me to reconcile the two. Québec is as much a mission field as any other country. I found it was a way for me to continue studying while being in a real mission field and working in a concrete way for God.
“When you do evangelism, there is less follow-up with people. It’s often a one-time contact and then you don’t really know what happens to that person. You don’t know if you will ever see them again. Université Laval has 30,000+ students, it’s huge. What I like about this project is that the goal is to create relationships and bring God in that context. This is an excellent way since the people you witness to in your surroundings are often the people that you have the most impact on because they see your life and your actions.”
Gabriel, Masters student in chemical engineering at Université Laval
“Traditional evangelism is not reaching people anymore. [For the last five years] I did a lot of evangelism with Power to Change. Just communicating a message is no longer a good way of connecting with people. I want to put to good use my skills in evangelism with P2C and add to that service and sacrifice for others. There was less follow-up with the old way of evangelizing. People are more attracted by hospitality. It impresses people. Seeing Christians in action stirs up questions.”
Laurianne, former violin student at the Conservatoire de musique
“I moved in the Impact House in July. I had to get out of my circle to join a common circle. I was inspired by a sentence in the book Si tu veux aller loin (If You Want to Go Far) by Ralph Shallis: ‘You are not a bottle’. After my conversion two years ago, I spent three months diving deeply in my Bible. Individually, I was progressing. My bottle was filling up, but the cork was going to pop. A bottle contains a maximum quantity of water. I prayed that the Lord would bring me people. The Impact House is an answer to that prayer.
“The Impact House is the Lord’s house that has an impact on us and on others. We don’t realize to what extent small actions can have a great impact on the lives of others. We want to train ourselves as workers to nurture the seeds, not just scatter them here and there.”
Le Voisinage project is now about two months into the fall semester. The team is encouraged by the large turnout they have seen at both the community meal on Tuesday evenings at the men’s Impact House and the coffee-dessert discussion on Sunday evenings at the women’s Impact House. The Tuesday community meal is attracting 50 to 60 people weekly which fosters relationship building between Christians and non-Christians. From the beginning, the Québec City staff team wanted Le Voisinage to be a partnership with different parts of the body of Christ. Local churches are responding to their invitation to get involved by preparing meals and bringing them to the house.
Before the meal, an introduction is made to explain that Le Voisinage is a Christian initiative and a prayer is said. A different theme is chosen every week to serve as a conversation-starter. Two themes that have been discussed in the past month are the way we deal with stress in our lives and the values that are essential to us, especially in light of the federal election. As for the Sunday coffee-dessert discussions, 30 to 40 people show up weekly, being mostly committed Christians and those questioning their faith, to talk about a spiritual topic such as success according to God.
The Christians, the ones questioning their childhood faith, and those who have never known the faith are all being reached by Le Voisinage. A Christian student from France prayed before coming to Canada that God would provide her with a community of committed Christians. Shortly after arriving in Québec City, she found the Voisinage group and saw it as an answer to her prayers. She loves helping out with the preparation of the Tuesday weekly meal and the clean-up afterwards.
Klaudette, an Impact House resident, enjoys greeting people at the door for the community meal. She got to know a non-Christian student who shows up every week to have deep conversations that he does not have the opportunity to have elsewhere. He eagerly goes up to her and asks her the question of the week to initiate the conversation himself.
Another student who regularly attends the weekly community meal had a Christian upbringing, but walked away from the faith as a teenager. The first time he showed up at the community meal, he did not know that it was a Christian initiative. He admitted that he wouldn’t have come if he knew it was a Christian event. However, because he feels loved and accepted as he is, he comes back every week despite now knowing that the meal is organized by Christians. And he is not alone. A few others who have grown up in the Christian faith but have since walked away are finding their place in Le Voisinage and experiencing Christian community in a compelling way.
The members of Le Voisinage are learning that perseverance is needed to reach their peers with the gospel. In Québec especially, it takes months, sometimes even years, for a person to come to trust a Christian enough to be receptive to the gospel. The team tried accelerating the process in the past month by introducing a more traditional evangelism program. However, attendance dropped after the introduction of this program and the team realized it was too soon. They need to be more patient and continue simply building into the friendships they have established and be okay with the fact that this work takes a long time. They want to make sure that spiritual conversations are happening in the context of friendship. Together, they are developing the skill of “nurturing the seeds”.
An atheist student who regularly attends the Voisinage activities shared that a stranger had tried proselytizing him very insistently as he was on his way to an event at one of the Impact Houses. He found it to be an unpleasant experience, especially because he did not know this person. The student then commented: “But here, our discussions about God are good because we are among friends.”